Psychologies – East and West Seminar: May 1976
TRADITIONAL ESOTERIC PSYCHOLOGIES IN CONTEMPORARY LIFE
May 1 and 2, 1976
The Institute for the Study of Human Knowledge
in cooperation with
The New School
New York City
There is a growing realization that contemporary Western education and culture leave “something out” of our science, medicine, psychology and our concept of human development. Sensing this lack, many people have initially turned their interest to the esoteric traditions of the East, often without understanding the bases and the relevance of many of these traditions. Although the interest may be genuine, many of the doctrines and the practitioners are suited only for the static societies of the East, or are suited for an earlier cultural era, and are not fully relevant to the current cultural situation.
In this symposium we will attempt to peel away some of the irrelevance of local coloration and obsolete doctrine from these traditions. We will present both appropriate historical information and contemporary examples of formulations of eastern spiritual thought suited to current needs in several fields.
The symposium will bring together speakers in different areas of inquiry who have all lived, traveled and worked in both the east and west.
PETER BRENT resides in England and has made several extensive visits to India, specializing on the role of spirituality in general and of the guru in particular in the culture of India. He is the author of Godmen of India and of Healers of India.
NASROLLAH SAIFPOUR FATEMI, a native of Iran, has represented Iran at UNESCO conferences and has taught at several western universities, including Fairleigh Dickenson University, where he is currently Director of the Graduate Institute of International Studies. He has written five books in Persian and five in English on intellectual and diplomatic history. He has recently completed the first book of a four-volume work on Sufism, a study of the works of Ghazzali, Rumi, Saadi and others.
ROBERT ORNSTEIN is research psychologist and professor at the Langley Porter Neuropsychiatric Institute, University of California School of Medicine. He is the author of several books on the psychology of consciousness, meditation, and of the functions of the human brain.
IDRIES SHAH is the leading exponent of Sufism and of a contemporary approach to mysticism in the world today. He currently resides in England where he is Director of Studies at the Institute for Cultural Research, and has traveled extensively in Europe, Asia and Africa relating traditional thought to the modern world. He is the author of seventeen books on Sufi thought and action, travel, magic and the use of literature in spiritual schools. His books are used in university departments throughout the world.
Saturday, May 1
9:30–10:30 PSYCHOLOGIES EAST AND WEST: INTRODUCTION
Western psychology has emphasized an impersonal “objective” approach to the understanding of the mind, often limited to observable phenomena such as language, behavior, and physiology. Its strengths are well known, yet its limitations are apparent in the understanding of the esoteric traditions of the East. This lack of a solid base in our culture has caused many to confuse contemporary “awareness trainings,” packagings of exercises, etc. with the developed esoteric traditions. The relevance of eastern psychology to the West will be discussed.
10:45–12:30 THE GURUS: FOR US AND FOR THEM
We imagine that we know very well what the word “Guru” means; however, the contention of this lecture is that we can only know what we mean by it. For us the appeal of the Guru lies partly in exoticism, which represents an almost insuperable barrier which we ignore. Westerners are ignorant of the roots of the Guru tradition and see him as guardian of a technique for what we imprecisely call “enlightenment.” There is very little in our traditions which enables us to understand this concept. It is important that we understand the phenomena of religious Asia in the terms in which they were founded.
2:00–3:30 SUFISM WITHIN AND WITHOUT ISLAM
NASROLLAH SAIFPOUR FATEMI
A close and careful study of Sufi writers within Islam such as Saadi, Ghazzali, Rumi, Hafiz and Khayyam show that the Islamic coloration of their writings is adaptive to their cultural surround, not essential. Sufism is an ageless science of integration, involved in brotherhood and understanding, not necessarily a specific doctrine.
3:30–5:00 ON THE NATURE OF SUFI KNOWLEDGE: I
There is a continuous “stream” of esoteric knowledge which has run through the major religions and philosophical traditions of both the East and the West. It exists today in a new form, in a fresh adaptation to contemporary life. As the leading exemplar of contemporary Sufism, Shah will give the first of two lectures on the nature and development of Sufi ideas, both within the student and within society.
Sunday, May 2
9:00–10:45 HEALERS OF INDIA
Many of the present criticisms leveled at western medicine are answered by Indian theory, however inadequate their actual practice sometimes is. Like other ancient systems of medical care, they are concerned with an inner balance in the patient and the promotion of health and “normality” rather than only the removal of specific diseases. These healers demonstrate an awareness of factors, interpersonal and personal, which western doctors do not consider of much significance, such as their approach to mental stability and, at one remove, the faith healers who are often much respected by those following a stricter discipline.
11:00–12:30 AN EXTENDED CONCEPTION OF MAN
As western thinkers begin to consider the traditions of the East we find that they demand the addition of a dimension to our assumptions and our conceptions. As examples: Two different modes of consciousness exist in man and function in a complementary manner; our personal and scientific attention is being shifted inward to the mastery of mental and physical states; man is not so closed a system as we had thought—we are permeable to subtle sources of energy from biospheric and human forces which often lie unnoted; the concepts of what is “normal” for man are undergoing a revision.
2:00–4:00 ON THE NATURE OF SUFI KNOWLEDGE: II
This lecture will continue the exposition of the conceptions and the practice of Sufism as education, for example, in the use of literature, impacts and action, as well as reflections upon the contemporary situation regarding these ideas.
4:15–5:00 SUMMARY AND COMMENTS
FATEMI, BRENT, ORNSTEIN
Questions both from the audience and the speakers themselves will be considered